Highlights of the Natural History Museum: Dinosaurs

The first exhibit we saw when we entered the Last American Dinosaurs Exhibition in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History was Hatcher, a 66 million something triceratops.
Hatcher looked impressive. His fossilized skeleton had a massive three horned head and a frill surrounding the back of his head. It looked full of vigor and life in spite of the lack of flesh and blood.

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When Hatcher was alive he was about 9.5 feet tall with a length of 30 feet and a weight of 6 to 9 tons. He ate plants and resembled a rhino. He could run as fast as a rhino with a speed of 25 miles per hour. His had two large horns over his eyebrows, which were a formidable weapon and a third smaller horn growing on the end of his snout. This horn consisted of soft protein, called keratin. In fact, triceratops means “three horned face” in Greek.

Hatcher got his name after paleontologist John Bell Hatcher, who discovered this triceratops fossil in Wyoming. Hatcher was the first triceratops exhibited in the Natural History Museum. It was first exhibited in 1905. At that time Hatcher looked awkward because he was assembled from the bones of ten different triceratops. After 90 years on display Hatcher began falling apart. One day his pelvis fell to the floor, which surprised visitors standing around him. Scientists in the museum found out that Hatcher’s bones were affected by pyrite disease. After treatment and a 3-D scan of the entire skeleton, scientists were able to scale the bones and the head proportionately. Hatcher was back on display in 2001 posing with his head lowered to show off his formidable horns and his front leg raised, like he is going to attack an enemy.

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Triceratops lived in the middle and late Cretaceous period, 68-66 million years ago. They went extinct after a huge, 7.5 miles wide asteroid struck the Earth in the sea near the Yucatan peninsula. The impact sent ash and dust into the atmosphere. This ash and dust blocked the sun and 75% of the existing species of animals and plants perished, including all dinosaurs.
Hatcher was not the only triceratops fossil discovered. Many triceratops fossils were found in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana and South Dakota. Skeletons of triceratops were also found in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada. Many fossils of Triceratops were found in the Laramie Formation in eastern Colorado.
Triceratops was preyed upon by Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Triceratops head was very large, about one third of the size of his entire body. With its frill it could reach 7 feet long.

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The distinctive frill that surrounds the back of a triceratops head served as protection against attacks of the larger dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex. Many frills, which were excavated, revealed puncture wounds, made by Tyrannosaurus Rex’s serrated, banana shaped, long teeth. Frills also served as a display during the mating season, or signaled danger when predators approached. It flashed pink due to multiple blood vessels in the skin covering the bony frill.
Triceratops were herbivores and ate hundreds of pounds of vegetation every day. They had rows of teeth that sheared all of this food. When one row of teeth got worn out it was replaced by the adjacent row.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex lived during the same time period as Triceratops, 68-66 million years ago, on a land mass called Laramidia. During that time North America was divided by the Western Interior Seaway which existed during the middle and late Cretaceous period. The western part was Laramidia and the eastern part was Appalachia. The sea was about 620 miles wide and extended from the Rockies to the Appalachians.
Fossils of Tyrannosaurus Rex were found in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Fossils of these dinosaurs were also found in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and in Mongolia.
Inside the Natural History Museum, a skeleton of a T Rex stands in a threatening pose, with wide open jaws full of sharp teeth and ready to bite. This skeleton was found in the Hell Creek formation in North Dakota. Tyrannosaurus means “tyrant lizard” in Greek and Rex means “king” in Latin.

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T Rex was on the top of a food chain and was a predator but also a scavenger. He preyed on triceratops, which was proved by T Rex’s tooth marks on a broken triceratops brow horn and his frill. Some triceratops skeletons were found with healed wounds inflicted by a T Rex. These indicate that some triceratops managed to survive attacks by T Rex. Also, a Tyrannosaurs tooth was found in healed wound of a duckbilled dinosaur’s tail bone discovered in the Hell Creek Formation.
Tyrannosaurus Rex had serrated teeth from 6 to 12 inches long and a very powerful bite with a force up to 12,800 pounds. This strong bite allowed him to tear and shear not only flesh but also to crush bones.
Tyrannosaurus Rex was one of the largest dinosaurs. Fully grown, he was about 40 feet long, up to 13 feet high and weighed about 9 tons.
Tyrannosaurus Rex’s arms were small. They were about 3 feet long but very strong and had two sharp claws. He gripped his prey and held it while biting and tearing their flesh.

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T Rex had bad breath and a poisonous bite because pieces of flesh stuck in between his teeth became rotten. His saliva infected the wound of the attacked animal. Even though his prey might escape it could possibly die later from a blood infection.
A female T Rex was larger than a male T Rex and a few tons heavier. She had to carry and lay eggs.
Tyrannosaurus Rex had an exceptional sense of smell, like vultures which use their sense of smell to find carcasses to feed on.
T Rex had very acute, binocular vision, even better than that of an eagle. This enables them to see their prey way before the prey could see T Rex. Their vision was 13 times higher than that of a human.
Scientists made these conclusions based on the size and the shape of Tyrannosaurus Rex sculls and their eye sockets. Proportionally, their brain was one of the largest among all animals.
Fifty skeletons of T Rex were found in the Western part of the U.S. and possible footprints of them in New Mexico and Hell Creek.
Scientists have done extensive research on the speed that dinosaurs moved and concluded that Tyrannosaurus Rex most likely was not able to run due to his weight. The maximum speed T Rex could move was 12 miles per hour. Otherwise, his leg bones would break.

Triceratops Hatcher has been on display in the Smithsonian Museum for more than 113 year. He is going to move to the new “David H. Koch Hall of Fossils-Deep Time” which will be open in June 2019. Hatcher will be on display showing him in a deadly battle with a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which was discovered in Montana in 1988. This Tyrannosaurus Rex will be displayed with his foot stepping on Hatcher’s rib cage and pinning him to the ground. Six ribs will be broken by this powerful blow and T Rex’s sharp teeth will bite into Hatcher’s frill. Hatcher’s brow horn will be broken against the ground. In this position T Rex will decapitate Hatcher.
Even though there is no evidence that Hatcher died this way scientists of the museum wanted to dramatize the real life of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
I want to believe that Hatcher escaped death and fought back. He might have gouged T Rex with his long formidable horns and ran away into the thick jungle of ferns and palm trees.

8 comments

    • Yes, kids would love dinosaurs. There are so many other interesting exibitions there as well: the Ocean and its inhabitants, the evolution of the Earth, human evolution, the Hope diamond and other gems and minerals.

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  1. The Natural History Museum was always my favorite Smithsonian when I was little because of all the dinosaurs, but I haven’t been back in years! They’ve clearly done some updating since the last time I went in. I didn’t know that the triceratops had fallen apart back in the 90s!!

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    • I did not know it either at the time we visited the museum. I just came accross the article about Hatcher and also found out that he is going to be “killed” by the new T Rex in a new exibition in “Deep Time” Hall. He looks so great now. : (

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